Flashback: Samsung and LG phones that learned to flex so future models could flex
The silicon in which the chips are etched is rigid, just like the glass substrate of a display. How to bend a phone without breaking it? To answer this, we have to start from the beginning, which in our case is the end of 2013.
The Samsung Galaxy Round launched on October 10 in South Korea (exclusively on SK Telecom) and became the first commercially available smartphone with a flexible AMOLED display. The whole phone was curved (side to side) which made a lot of sense if you think about it. Your thumb moves in an arc, and when you put the phone in your pocket, a curved device will fit your leg better than a flat slate.
While this design was a boon for ergonomics, its price and limited availability kept it from becoming popular. But his real mission was different, anyway he announced the arrival of flexible AMOLED displays.
The Samsung Galaxy Round was curved (but not flexible)
It wasn’t until a year later that flexible displays really became available to the general public with the Galaxy Note Edge. Initially, Samsung created this as a prototype – a showcase of what Samsung Display can build – but after an overwhelmingly positive response, the company turned it into a real product. A product that spawned an ephemeral dynasty.
From the Galaxy S6 edge (early 2015) to the S7 edge (the following year), “edge” has become the label of Samsung’s premium flagship product, easily recognizable by its curved sides. Beginning with the S8, most S-series phones had curved screens, so the ‘edge’ moniker was dropped.
The Samsung Galaxy Note Edge was the first to feature a screen with a curved side (just the one at the start)
All of these devices have something in common: Their AMOLED displays are built on a plastic substrate instead of the usual glass. This is what allowed them to conform to the odd shapes of the Galaxy Round and Note Edge. However, these panels were really designed to be flexed once at the factory and never again.
A much more ambitious device would become the first true flexible phone – the aptly named LG G Flex, which launched just days after the Galaxy Round.
This one also had a plastic AMOLED display, “P-OLED” in LG parlance. The phone was also curved, although along the other axis (up and down) from the Round. It had similar ergonomic benefits, but the real party trick was that you could flex the phone. Not much, but you could bend it without breaking it. And you really had to put some muscle in it, let’s just say it’s not called the G Floppy for a reason.
Curved phones have ergonomic advantages
However, to achieve this, it took a lot more than flexible display. The exterior was polycarbonate, while the screen was (surprisingly) coated in Gorilla Glass 2. Corning is still working on its foldable glass, but here GG2 only had to survive a minor flex – and it does. did.
However, it was still very early in the P-OLED development cycle, and the screen only had a resolution of 720p – not much for a 6.0-inch display (especially since the LG G2 already had a 5.2 inch 1080p panel). The LG G Flex2 delivered a 5.5-inch 1080p display on a flexible phone in early 2015, so resolution wasn’t an intractable issue.
The LG G Flex was curved like a banana
Either way, the internal components of the G Flex were even more impressive. The specs seemed very similar to the LG G2, although the hardware required some tweaking. The lithium polymer battery (3,500mAh) was also curved and could bend with the rest of the phone. LG’s battery division has really shown itself with this one – it has produced some bizarre batteries over the years (including L-shaped batteries for the iPhone), but this is by far the most impressive. .
LG developed a curved and flexible battery for the G Flex
The G Flex had a magic trick up its sleeve that has only been repeated once since. The back of the phone was covered with a self-healing material – if you scratch it, the notch would slowly close over time (rubbing the area to heat it would speed up the process). Deeper groves were permanent, but it promised a future with phones that didn’t need protective cases. The G Flex2 improved the formula and who knows what might have been if the company had continued to work on it.
LG G Flex surface could heal shallow scratches, deeper ones leave scar
The whole design took 5 years to develop and in all fairness was more of a technological demonstration than a mass market device. Some of what was developed is still relevant today, flexible displays are quite common nowadays. However, the rest of the technology didn’t go far.
Today’s foldable phones have a hinge in the middle to allow their two rigid halves to “fold”. Instead of flexible batteries, they just have a split battery. No self-healing coating either, just reinforced glass on the outside to prevent scratches.
Modern foldable phones sit on a hinge
LG may not be in the phone business anymore (he stepped out right after teasing his roll-up phone), but its display and battery manufacturing divisions are still in the game. Samsung Display isn’t slowing down either, it’s now the largest producer of flexible AMOLED displays. Chinese companies like BOE are also developing their own technologies, so the competition will only intensify.
Hinged designs have one weak spot – exactly the hinge – although at least they can be made water resistant, as the Galaxy Z Fold3 and Z Flip3 have shown. However, Samsung doesn’t claim any dust resistance on these phones, so the hinge is still not fully sealed.
Maybe one day we’ll have a foldable phone that really folds (like a piece of paper). But for the foreseeable future, “foldable” phones will have to simulate part of the folding process. Either way, they should all be grateful to the LG Flex and Samsung Galaxy Round for setting the stage for their arrival.